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Written by Timothy Sexton
Mirrors are given prominent positions within both the story and the play-within-the-story. Taken together, these references create imagery which offers a critique of the standard conception that the reflection offered by a mirror offers a profound glimpse into the soul. The use of mirror as imagery even extends beyond the literal to the metaphorical. The lady who offers the sage advice that “Books are the mirrors of the soul” turns out to be foolishly dependent upon flattery. The narrator counsels the reader that the reflected image in the mirror is everybody as likely to be that of an empty soul consumed by boredom as it is an anguished Queen or heroic King. The key moment in the play put on during the story is when mirrors are thrust toward the audience and the mirror becomes imagery suggesting that whether on stage or off, every life is a performance to some degree.
Although not directly mentioned often, the imagery of a cesspool is essential. It is, in fact, the top of the conversation opening the novel with the narrator making a point to highlight that the plan is to build the cesspool on property that was a road build the Roman conquerors during their empire. In addition, the reader learns that the land was home to an Elizabethan manor house as fields of wheat during the Napoleonic Wars. All that glory eventually leading to a cesspool: imagery that makes a corrosive commentary on the nature of history.
Throughout the narrative runs concerns about the potential for rain ruining plans for the outdoor pageant. Faces tilt backward and look toward the sky in hesitant expectation and hope that all will hold out just long enough. But the rain does eventually come, quickly and without warning and it ends in the same way. The lesson of this imagery is put into explicit terms:
“Nature once more had taken her part. The risk she had run…was justified.”
The link between real life and performed life on the stage and the manner in which they are really inextricable from each other is conveyed through imagery in various ways, but most solidly through the juxtaposition of the story itself and the significance of the play-within-the-story. That is the not the most significant example of imagery, however. For that revelation, Woolf waits until the very end and the very last lines of the novel to make a final, determinate, unambiguous statement on the nature of existence. The final scene situates the argumentative couple Giles and Isa at night, readying for bed and the future:
“Then the curtain rose. They spoke.”
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